Export value of Afghan opium plummeting, says UN anti-drug agency

17 December 2009

The potential export value of Afghanistan’s opium has dropped 18 per cent this year, the United Nations anti-drug body reported today, but it cautioned that further progress hinges on rooting out corruption in the South Asian nation.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the export value of opiates dropped from $3.4 billion in 2008, or one-third of Afghanistan’s GDP, to $2.8 billion in 2009, equivalent to one-quarter of the GDP.

The Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009 attributed the decline to lower opium cultivation, lower production, lower prices and relatively higher GDP.

“Military and market forces are reducing the impact of opium on Afghanistan’s economy,” UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said.

But he underscored that additional progress depends on controlling corruption, not just drugs and the insurgency. “I urge President [Hamid] Karzai to make integrity as high a priority as security – you can’t have one without the other.”

The new study found that lower revenues and excess production have dampened supply, with cultivation falling 22 per cent and production dropping by 10 per cent. Also, the number of people involved in opium cultivation has decreased one-third to 1.6 million.

“Annual fluctuations of opium cultivation and production do not tell the whole story,” Mr. Costa said.

“I hope that the new Afghan National Drug Control Strategy, currently under preparation, will reassert that success will come when Afghanistan’s farmers have sustainable licit livelihoods, when drug traffickers no longer operate with impunity, and when people no longer have to pay bribes for basic services,” he added. “The alternative of a society wracked by drugs, insurgency, and corruption is untenable.”

Earlier this week, a UNODC survey found that opium cultivation in Myanmar has increased for the third year in a row, with the number of hectares rising by 11 per cent – a total of almost 50 per cent since 2006 – although production was down due to a fall in yield per hectare.

Opium hectares now total 31,700 and while this is still just a quarter of the amount grown in Afghanistan and a far cry from the early 1990s when Myanmar was the world’s biggest opium producer, “the trend is going in the wrong direction,” Mr. Costa noted.

“Increased instability in north-eastern Myanmar is affecting the opium market. Ceasefire groups – autonomous ethnic militias like the Wa and Kachin – are selling drugs to buy weapons, and moving stocks to avoid detection,” he said.

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